Every day of the week, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. Monday is a pediatrician Dr Jennifer Shu.
My 10 year old daughter has just been treated for lice for the third time this school year. What’s the best way to get rid of it, and how can I make sure it doesn’t get it anymore?
Asked by Carol from Dunwoody, GA
Thanks for your question. Head lice are very common in children, especially between 3 and 12 years old. Insects can be found crawling around the hairline and laying their eggs on hair shafts near a person’s scalp. Lice do not carry infectious diseases and are not a sign of a person’s cleanliness, but they are a nuisance and can be difficult to treat.
Lice are spread from person to person through direct contact (lice have to crawl from head to head; they do not jump or fly), and can be spread during sleepovers or when work or play closely together. Insects can also move from person to person if items such as hats or hairbrushes are shared.
The key to getting rid of lice is to eliminate all living lice and prevent eggs attached to the hair from hatching. There are many possible treatments, ranging from physically removing insects and their eggs from the hair, to using medicated products to kill lice and / or their eggs. If the eggs are not removed, they may hatch after a week or two, and the process of getting rid of live lice will then have to be repeated.
• Picking or combing. Lice and eggs can be removed by carefully picking up or finely combing all parts of the hair. This process may need to be repeated for several days or even a few weeks to ensure that everything has been deleted.
• Home remedies. Many people have tried to suffocate lice by leaving household products such as mayonnaise, vinegar, or petroleum jelly on their hair overnight and then washing them off the next morning. Cetaphil cleanser has also been reported to treat lice. It goes without saying that potentially toxic products such as gasoline or kerosene should not be used – although they can kill lice, they are also dangerous for children. Bottom line: If the home remedy isn’t harmful, it might be worth a try.
• Dry heat. A special machine called the LouseBuster delivers a controlled amount of heated air to dry the hair with the aim of killing lice and their eggs. It is designed for use by people trained in settings such as schools, camps or clinics. Regular hair dryers can cause live lice to spread through the air and spread to other people nearby and therefore are not recommended.
• Drug treatments. Over-the-counter medicated lotions such as permethrin (Nix) and pyrethrin (RID or Pronto) formulations can be very effective in killing live lice. Prescription treatments such as benzyl alcohol (Ulesfia) and malathion (Ovid) may be successful even if the lice are resistant to over-the-counter preparations. Ask your doctor which one is recommended in your community, and be sure to follow the product’s directions for how much to use, whether to apply it to wet or dry hair, and how long to leave it on before washing. These products often need to be repeated within 7-10 days.
• Lice removal services. Some caregivers may choose to outsource the lice removal process to companies dedicated to head lice removal. These companies can rely on a combination of the above therapies.
• Treat the environment. It can be helpful to wash and dry clothes and bedding with hot water and high heat, and vacuum furniture, rugs, and car seats. Consider placing hard-to-wash items (like stuffed animals and pillows) in a plastic bag for two weeks to make sure the remaining eggs won’t hatch and survive.
• Avoid contact with lice. Even if you manage to remove all the lice and eggs from your daughter’s hair, it is possible to be re-infested by someone else who has not been treated properly. Teach children to be extra careful to avoid touching their heads. It is also a good idea to keep hats, jackets, combs, brushes, towels and other personal items separate, although once a louse has been removed from its human host it will die within a day or two. unless he finds another hot scalp to live on.
• Extreme measures. While shaving a child’s hair can also remove lice and eggs, this drastic step is often not necessary.
Be sure to contact your child’s pediatrician if you have any further questions. Good luck!